The Truth About Back Pain
Back pain is a condition that will likely affect you at some point in your life, if you aren’t already acquainted with it. According to Ronald J. Wisneski, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and a specialist in spinal disorders and spine surgery at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., some 80% of the population in the US will have back pain “at some point in their life”.
Fortunately most of these cases of lower back pain tend to resolve on their own within a few weeks, but for an unlucky few (anywhere from 2% - 10%) this pain can develop into chronic lower back pain that is defined as lasting more than 12 weeks.
Are You Destined For Debilitating Low Back Pain?
So what causes some people to have their back pain spontaneously resolve itself, and why do others go on to face months, and sometimes years, of debilitating pain? Interestingly enough the answer might lie in our DNA.
Researchers have compared data around twin studies and found that if one twin was doing heavy physical work, while another was doing less intensive work, there was often no difference in their MRIs. This led researchers to dig deeper into the genetics behind low back pain.
The Role Of Nociceptive Fibers In Back Pain
What they discovered was that the lower back has many sensitive receptors, known as nociceptive fibers, which carry pain signals to the brain. Not everyone has the same number of nociceptive fibers - even with twins. Some individuals may have a large number of these fibers in their spinal discs, while others may have only a few.
The relevance of the presence of these fibers means that one person might be able to lift heavy objects with no problems, while other people can end up in terrible pain just from sleeping “wrong”. Those individuals with chronic low back pain may have a genetic predisposition towards the pain and towards low back pain, specifically.
Does That Mean There Is Nothing That I Can Do About My Low Back Pain?
Fortunately, despite this known genetic predisposition for some people to develop chronic low back pain, there are 3 common things that we do that have considerable consequences for our lower backs. 3 common things that many of us do that contribute considerable towards low back pain are:
Resting too much after injury
Improper lifting/moving of objects
1. Poor Posture
When it comes to lower back pain, poor posture is one of the primary causes of the condition. When we are slouched over in our seats it puts enormous strain on our backs. The excessive pressure that poor posture puts on our discs and joints is a major cause of lower back pain.
When we are not sitting upright, the weight is not evenly dispersed on our muscles and joints and this can cause the tissues in your lower back to absorb more pressure than they should, thereby weakening the tissues in your lower back.
Hunching over your work all day can also put unnecessary strain on the vertebral discs, the fluid filled cushions that protect our vertebrae from rubbing against each other. Making sure you stretch out your spine during the day can help prevent this from happening and keep your spine feeling strong and supported.
Another culprit in the condition is slouching for extended periods of time. The prolonged sitting can cause your muscles to weaken and your hip flexors to shorten which can interfere with proper circulation of blood and nutrients to your discs and muscles.
Learning how to maintain good posture while sitting at your desk can make a major difference to how your back feels at the end of a long work day. Setting up your workspace for success is key.
A good chair, making sure that you aren’t having to twist constantly to reach important things, and also good support for your feet can make a significant difference to your posture and help prevent low back pain.
You can learn more about some of the best types of office chairs in our blog called, ‘Best Office Chairs For Low Back Pain’ where we check out some of the top ergonomic furniture for your office.
If you have encountered low back pain at any point in your life then you know that the intensity of the pain can make you want to curl up into a ball, collapse on the couch, or crawl into your bed. Once upon a time it was actually a prescribed treatment for low back pain but new research is debunking this type of treatment.
Data shows that staying in bed for prolonged periods can actually increase your pain by causing your muscles to stiffen. When we aren’t using our muscles they lose their strength and flexibility - in fact you can lose 1% of your muscle strength for every day that you lie in bed. Our bodies are meant for movement, so it is important to fight that urge to just crawl into bed when back pain strikes.
Getting moving can be both scary and painful. It might be a good idea to clear exercise with your doctor, giving you more confidence that you are doing the right thing and reassuring you that the exercise will help your recovery.
There are hundreds of studies that all confirm the benefits of exercise for back pain, from the physical aspect of keeping your muscles strong and flexible, to the mental health benefits of endorphins and a happier outlook on life.
3. Improper Lifting/ Moving
Most of us don’t realize just how much we rely on our backs to get us through the day. Whether we are walking, sitting, standing, or lying, our spines get put through the paces every minute of the day. All of this activity can lead to overuse, strains, and sprains.
Repetitive movements, heavy lifting, injuries, and falls are some of the most common causes of lower back pain. Fortunately most of these causes lead to more acute low back pain than chronic pain, but they are common and they should be addressed as soon as possible to make sure that they don’t turn into something more serious.
Treatment for strained ligaments range from anti-inflammatory medications, to heat/ice therapy. Treatment will often depend on how severe the injury is and what your body responds to the best. It is also important not to keep repeating the movement that caused the injury to begin with.
If your work requires something like repetitive lifting or heavy lifting, taking the time to stretch or warm up before completing the movements can help prepare your body for the task ahead. You can also try asking your employer for special equipment such as a back brace to help support your body through the movement.
For many of us, dealing with low back pain might seem like something we "just have to live with". You might have been dealing with the condition for so long, or think that because a family member has it you too will be destined to deal with it.
Genetics definitely do play a part, but the good news is that there are things that you can do to help improve your back pain. You don't have to just accept that you will be destined to live in pain for the rest of your life.
With just a few tweaks in your routine, these tips have been clinically proven to help reduce back pain and improve quality of life. Why don't you give them a try?